For young drivers like Christopher Bell, Bristol Motor Speedway equates to a high-speed guessing game.
“That’s especially the case with no practice. When I went there in the spring, it was crazy how much drivers were off. They were either really loose or really right,” said Bell in a recent Zoom interview.
Bell enters Saturday’s Night Race ranked eighth in NASCAR Cup Series points.
With Saturday serving as the first cutoff on the playoff championship road, Bell cannot afford a crazy night.
The 26-year Oklahoma native has just a 17-point margin on Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch, who are tied for 12th in points. Only the top 12 drivers advance from the original championship field of 16.
“It’s the playoffs, man. Every year there is something different and you can never really predict will happen,” Bell said.
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted what happened at Darlington. We had so many guys that had bonus points have bad nights there. And the next thing you know, there were guys on the outside looking in.”
Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell are currently out of the playoff picture.
“Last year, Kevin Harvick looked like a sure lock to get to the final four and he didn’t make it. So, you just never know when it comes down to the end,” Bell said.
Bell earned an extra dose of Bristol prep on Aug. 18, as he took part in a closed test session for NASCAR’s Next Gen car.
“It was really cool to get back on the concrete surface,” Bell said. “I’m excited about the Next Gen car, and I think Bristol is going to be a great place for it.”
Bell, the first-year driver of the high-profile No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, turned countless laps around the BMS high banks last month in the red and black prototype Next Gen ride.
The Next Gen car will make its debut at the annual exhibition Clash in February, slated to be held at Los Angeles Coliseum, one week before the Daytona 500. The Next Gen car will make its Bristol debut during the 2022 Food City Dirt Race.
Since no information on the test was released by NASCAR or BMS officials, fans have been curious to gather feedback from Bell.
“The biggest thing was just and tire and wheel combination,” Bell said. “With the low profile sidewalls, it makes it a lot harder to drive because you can’t slip and slide around as much.”
There was plenty of slipping around BMS for the Bristol Dirt Race in March. Due to his background in dirt racing, Bell entered the historic event as one of the favorites. Bell’s day ended in misery following an early crash with Kyle Larson, so he’s eager for redemption.
“At the Next Gen test, it was crazy just seeing the difference from the red clay that had been on the track to the white concrete,” Bell said. “Bristol is one of my favorite tracks whether it’s concrete or dirt.”
Bell is enthused about one other part of the famed “Bristol Experience” this weekend.
“It will be really good to get back in front of full crowds,” Bell said. “I’ve never been able to fully experience the Bristol Night race, so I can’t wait to see the turnout.”
Along with the persistent weather challenges in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee, the BMS guessing game includes heavy traffic and the variables involved with the traction compound used for recent events.
“You can get in trouble at Bristol pretty quick,” Bell said. “It’s a very demanding track on drivers, pit crews and teams.
“The traction compound goes through a ton of changes throughout the course of 500 laps. That puts a lot of pressure on the drivers, pit crews and crew chiefs, so it’s going to be full of drama.”
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